American Tyler Farrar won the 11th stage of the Tour of Spain in a mass sprint finish on Wednesday, as controversial Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde retained the leader's golden jersey.
The Garmin rider edged Belgian Philippe Gilbert and Italy's Marco Marcato to the line after a 200-kilometre ride from Murcia to Caravaca de la Cruz in southeastern Spain, which included a first category hill climb.
All three were among a group of 49 riders, including Valverde, to record the same time.
The stage was marked by a breakaway after around 65 kilometres by Frenchman David Moncoutie, Spain's Amets Txurruka and Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland.
The three built up a lead of more than eight minutes but were caught by the peleton around 50 kilometres before the finish.
Frenchman Remy di Gregorio also launched a late and short-lived attack.
"I've been struggling all season to win a stage in a big tour," said Farrar, 25, who turned professional in 2003.
Valverde conserves the golden jersey, seven seconds ahead of Australia's two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans and 36 ahead of Dutchman Robert Gesink.
The Spaniard snatched the overall lead from Evans on Monday following the race's ninth stage. The 29-year-old is banned from riding in Italy for two years after being implicated in the Puerto doping scandal, accusations he contests.
Thursday is a rest day in the Tour, which resumes on Friday with the 12th stage, a 179-kilometre race from the city of Almeria to the top of the Alto de Velefique and the first of three tough mountain stages in the southern region of Andalucia.
Meanwhile, the Euskaltel team said it will not sanction its Spanish rider Mikel Astarloza after a second blood sample on Tuesday confirmed a positive test for the blood booster EPO.
"The team supports the rider wholeheartedly, we are not going to sanction him as we are certain that he has taken no banned product. The analyses are not reliable," said the team's sporting director Gorka Gerrikagoitia before the start of Wednesday's stage.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) first informed Astarloza he had been suspended after he failed a doping test carried out before the Tour de France in July. He now faces a two-year ban from the sport.
© 2009 AFP